Berlin, Germany March 3, 1945

Round-the-clock bombing operations against Nazi Germany began on March 3, 1944, with a U.S. 800‑plane day­light raid that dropped 2,000 tons of bombs on Berlin. On this date in 1945 Amer­i­can bombers mounted a day­light raid on Berlin that left 3,000 peo­ple dead and 100,000 home­less. Luft­waffe bombers reta­li­a­ted, attacking Brit­ain for the first time in seven months. Two weeks later 1,250 Allied bombers made the heav­iest day­light raid of the war on Berlin, dropping 3,000 tons of bombs, while fighting off a swarm of Me 262 German jets, which made their com­bat appear­ance for the first time. That same day Frank­furt am Main was attacked from the air and 1,000 peo­ple were killed. The last Amer­i­can raid on Berlin occurred on April 10, 1945, when 1,232 B‑17 Flying Fortresses and B‑24 Liberators beat off the largest jet effort of the war: 30 out of 50 Me 262s were shot down.

The daily raids on Adolf Hitler’s capi­tal, begun in Febru­ary 1945, were increased during the next two months (42,000 sor­ties between March 21 and 24 mainly on Berlin) until they turned into an almost in­ces­sant rain of bombs by U.S., British, and now Soviet air forces. Despite the bombing, 50,000 Ger­man refugees sought safety in Berlin each day in Febru­ary, fleeing west­ward in cars and horse-drawn carts and wagons, on bicycles and on foot in advance of the Red Army as it swept through the Baltic states, East Prussia, Poland, and Pomerania.

It can be said that the carpet bombing of German cities reached its height once the war against the Third Reich had essen­tially been won at the close of 1944. The horrific fire­bombing inflicted on Dresden on Febru­ary 13‑15, 1945, by flotillas of Allied bombers caused British Prime Win­ston Chur­chill to wonder if wreaking such destruc­tion on German cities and infra­struc­ture at this point wasn’t counter­pro­duc­tive. Where in all the world would there be enough money to rebuild every flattened city, town, and hamlet, every factory, rail­road, and harbor in Europe, those of the victors as well as the vanquished?

As German bombs and rockets pummeled European targets, Allied bombs con­tinued to rain down on Germany through April 1945. Between Janu­ary and the begin­ning of May 1945, in a bid to disrupt rail and river trans­por­ta­tion net­works and put more strain on Ger­many’s dwindling man­power and fuel resources, RAF Bomber Com­mand dropped 191,540 tons of ordnance on Germany to the U.S. Eighth Air Forces’ 188,573 tons. During the Euro­pean air war, a total of 2,770,540 tons of bombs were dropped by the West­ern Allies. After the war the U.S. Stra­tegic Bombing Sur­vey esti­mated that a mini­mum of 305,000 peo­ple were killed in German cities alone due to bombing and esti­mated a mini­mum of 780,000 wounded. Roughly 7.5 million German civil­ians were rendered home­less, more than 10 perc­ent of the population. The bombing campaign cost 160,000 Allied airmen their lives.

There are literally dozens of books that describe the last days of Adolf Hitler and the capi­tal of his Thou­sand Year Reich. One of the best I’ve read is Roger Moor­house’s Berlin at War. His book brilliantly recounts the tragedy of every­day citizens of the his­toric city, who typically were no admirers of the Nazis, yet because they lived in the epi­center of Nazism suffered every sort of priva­tion and even death, all for the self-delusion of glory and power that characterized a thoroughly despicable regime.—Norm Haskett

The Allied Air Campaign Over Germany, 1943–1945

Allied air campaign over Germany: B-17s dropping ordinanceAllied air campaign over Germany: Dresden pyre for February 1945 bombing victims

Left: One of 100 B-17s dropping ordinance on Focke-Wulf’s 100‑acre air­craft manu­fac­turing plant at Marien­burg (today’s Malbork in Northern Poland) on October 9, 1943. The plant pro­duced about half of the 20,000-plus Fw 190s built in Germany and became, along with its well-known counter­part, the Messer­schmitt Bf 109, the back­bone of the Luft­waffe’s Jagdwaffe (Figher Force).

Right: Thousands of unidentified victims of the February 1945 bombing of Dresden were stacked in layers over wood and burned in the Alt­markt (“Old Market”) square, once the site of flower markets. The daily crema­tion pyres dis­posed of 500 corpses a day. SS men who had run the Treb­linka exter­mi­na­tion camp in Eastern Poland, liber­ated by the Red Army on August 16, 1944, super­vised workers cre­mating the bodies and carting off the fine ash that covered the Altmarkt’s cobblestones.

Allied air campaign over Germany: Effects of Operation Gomorrah, late-1943, on HamburgAllied air campaign over Germany: Berlin 1944 bombing victims

Left: Operation Gomorrah, the 8-day and 7-night Anglo-American air attack on Hamburg beginning in late July 1943, killed 42,600 civil­ians, wounded 37,000, and prac­tically destroyed the North German city on the Elbe River. The Allies’ devas­tating response to the Luftwaffe’s bombing of the British capital, London, between Septem­ber 1940 and May 1941 (Blitz) caused one million civil­ians to evacu­ate Hamburg. Indus­trial losses were so severe that the city never recovered to full production.

Right: Relatives search through rows of victims of an Allied bombing on Berlin, Septem­ber 23, 1944. Estimates of the number of dead in Berlin from all air raids range from 20,000 to 50,000, with the lower figure more likely. The relatively low figure is partly a testament to the capital’s superior air defenses and shelters.

Allied air campaign over Germany: Berlin moonscapeAllied air campaign over Germany: Berlin streetscape

Left: An aerial photo of Berlin shows the legacy of destruction left by the war. By April 1945 Berlin had become a moonscape of ruined buildings and cratered streets.

Right: Danish journalist Paul von Stemann remembered the end days of Berlin as a time of “dull­ness, antici­pation, fear and con­tinuous bombing. . . The war seemed per­petual. . . The flowers had gone, the books had been burnt, the pictures had been removed, the trees had been broken, there were no birds singing, no dogs barking, no children shrieking . . . there was no laughter and no giggling. . . [The sky] was often effaced by the stinking and greasy carpets of voluminous black smoke.” Quoted in Moorhouse, Berlin at War, pp. 346–47.

1944 Newsreel Clips: Bombers over Berlin, Returning Allied POWs, Australian Veterans Parade in Sydney, German POWs in U.S., Italian Refugees in Southern Italy, and Allied Forces in England Get Ready for Normandy Invasion